Insult to Injury: Rethinking Our Responses to Intimate Abuse

Insult to Injury: Rethinking Our Responses to Intimate Abuse

Insult to Injury: Rethinking Our Responses to Intimate Abuse

Insult to Injury: Rethinking Our Responses to Intimate Abuse


Locking up men who beat their partners sounds like a tremendous improvement over the days when men could hit women with impunity and women fearing for their lives could expect no help from authorities. But does our system of requiring the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of abusers lessen domestic violence or help battered women? In this already controversial but vitally important book, we learn that the criminal justice system may actually be making the problem of domestic violence worse. Looking honestly at uncomfortable facts, Linda Mills makes the case for a complete overhaul and presents a promising alternative.

The evidence turns up some surprising facts about the complexities of intimate abuse, facts that run against mainstream assumptions: The current system robs battered women of what power they do hold. Perhaps as many as half of women in abusive relationships stay in them for strong cultural, economic, religious, or emotional reasons. Jailing their partners often makes their situations worse. Women are at least as physically violent and emotionally aggressive as are men toward women, and women's aggression is often central to the dynamic of intimate abuse.

Informed by compelling evidence, personal experience, and what abused women themselves say about their needs, Mills proposes no less than a fundamentally new system. Addressing the real dynamics of intimate abuse and incorporating proven methods of restorative justice, Mills's approach focuses on healing and transformation rather than shame or punishment. Already the subject of heated controversy, Insult to Injury offers a desperately needed and powerful means for using what we know to reduce violence in our homes.


Walking down Bethnal Green road, an arterial street in working-class East London, I witnessed a remarkable scene. I was carrying my laundry and talking with a friend when my focus was drawn to a mother walking with her five-year-old son. He was demanding attention, as all children do, and her patience suddenly snapped. She whipped around and smacked him across the face. He staggered backward. I was shocked that I was witnessing this violence at such close range and simultaneously struck by its intimacy and familiarity. I had just watched a mother assault a child in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded public street. I felt sad for the child and angry with a mother who would treat her child this way. Before I could respond, the child collected himself and, to my astonishment, stepped forward and punched his mother in the stomach.

I turned and looked at my companion; we were both impressed and somewhat pleased that the child had asserted his rights, stood up for himself, and retaliated. Then it slowly dawned on me. in that split second, we had witnessed the genesis of intimate abuse. This was an unexceptional everyday scene, just another parent who felt entitled to correct her child with physical admonitions and a child who reacted unreflectively. But the little boy would grow up to become a man, and he was already being taught to respond to women with violence. We learn to become violent, as this scene suggests, but we seldom realize that is what we are learning, let alone that it is what we are teaching.

The image of that altercation has stayed with me for many years. We . . .

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